The Many Layers of Torah

Ki yishal’cha bin’cha machar leimor mah ha’eidus v’hachukim v’hamishpatim asher tzivah Hashem Elokeinu es’chem (Devarim 6:20)

The Pesach Haggadah teaches that the Torah discusses four types of children. Our verse contains the question attributed to the wise son. For each child, the Torah provides a different answer or explanation that is tailored to his unique circumstances so that the parents will be able to explain the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt to him in a manner which is appropriate for his level. Why does the Torah discuss so many different types of children, and what is the author of the Haggadah trying to teach us by emphasizing this point?

Our Sages teach that every word in the Torah can be interpreted in 70 distinct ways. Harav Moshe Tukechinsky, who served as the Mashgiach of the Slabodka yeshivah in Bnei Brak, suggests that this number is no coincidence. Dovid Hamelech writes (Tehillim 90:10) that the average lifespan of a person is 70 years. Hashem placed in the Torah a corresponding number of levels so that a person won’t be complacent with his previous understanding, but will seek to discover a new layer of depth in each successive year.

However, Harav Tukechinsky adds that it is unreasonable to expect a person to begin this project in the first few years of his life, when his intellect isn’t yet adequately developed for the task. Rather, this lifelong project begins at a person’s bar mitzvah, when the Torah considers his mind sufficiently advanced to hold him responsible for his actions. It should come as no surprise that Harav Tukechinsky died at the age of 83!

In light of our new appreciation of the true depths contained within the Torah, we can now understand the answer to our original question. Harav Chaim Soloveitchik, zt”l, explains that the fact that the Torah specifically addresses each unique type of child helps us recognize its greatness. Books which are written by humans are targeted toward one level, but the Divinely-authored Torah addresses and is relevant to every person on his unique individual level.

Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita, notes that in secular studies such as mathematics, at the end of each school year the students must turn in their old books and receive new, more advanced books at the beginning of the next year. In contrast, Jews around the world study the very same Torah, Mishnah and Gemara beginning in their youth and continuing throughout their lives, as the Divine wisdom contained therein may be accessed by each student on his personal level.

Many of us, this author included, grew up with a perfunctory introduction to the basic “stories” of the Bible — Adam and the forbidden fruit, Noah and the flood, Moses and the ten plagues, and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Although at that point we may have thought that we understood the full depth of the Torah, we are now mature and intelligent enough to recognize the folly and arrogance of this belief. The Mishnah (Avos 5:26) teaches: “Delve into it (the Torah), and continue to delve into it, for everything is contained within it.” This is a lesson that each of us, no matter where we are on our personal path of Jewish growth, would do well to contemplate and internalize.

Parashah Q & A

Q: Moshe’s petitions to enter the Land of Israel were denied (3:26). Why didn’t he at least merit having his bones buried in the Land of Israel so that he could enter it posthumously, as did Yaakov and his 12 sons?

Q: Although Hashem forbade Moshe to actually enter the Land of Israel, He did allow him to see the entire Land, commanding him (3:27) to ascend to the top of a cliff and raise his eyes westward, northward, southward and eastward in order to take in the entire Land. As Moshe was standing to the east of the Land of Israel, why did Hashem command him to also look to the east when the land he would see in this direction wasn’t part of Israel?

A: Rabbeinu Bachyei suggests that Hashem specifically wanted Moshe to be buried outside the Land of Israel for two reasons. First, this was done to show respect to the rest of the Jews in his generation who died in the wilderness and were buried there. Second, it gives hope to all Jews throughout the generations who lived outside the Land of Israel and who yearned for the ultimate redemption but didn’t merit seeing it in their lifetimes. The recognition that Moshe himself died and was buried outside Israel gives them encouragement that they will merit being resurrected and entering Israel together with him.

A: Harav Zalman Sorotzkin answers by citing the Midrash, which teaches that Hashem showed Moshe the Land as it would appear in the Messianic era. At that time, it will also include the lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which are located to the east of the Land of Israel proper.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email